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The Disappointment Artist: Essaysby Jonathan Lethem
Synopses & Reviews
A mixture of personal memory and cultural commentary, The Disappointment Artist offers a series of windows onto the collisions of art, landscape, and personal history that formed Jonathan Lethem's richly imaginative, searingly honest perspective on life as a human creature in the jungle of culture at the end of the twentieth century.
From a confession of the sadness of a "Star Wars nerd" to an investigation into the legacy of a would-be literary titan, Lethem illuminates the process by which a child invents himself as a writer, and as a human being, through a series of approaches to the culture around him. In "The Disappointment Artist," a letter from his aunt, a children's book author, spurs a meditation on the value of writing workshops, the role and influence of reviews, and the uncomfortable fraternity of writers. In "Defending The Searchers" Lethem explains how a passion for the classic John Wayne Western became occasion for a series of minor humiliations. In "Identifying with Your Parents," an excavation of childhood love for superhero comics expands to cover a whole range of nostalgia for a previous generation's cultural artifacts. And "13/1977/21," which begins by recounting the summer he saw Star Wars twenty-one times, "slipping past ushers who'd begun to recognize me...occult as a porn customer," becomes a meditation on the sorrow and solace of the solitary moviegoer.
The Disappointment Artist confirms Lethem's unique ability to illuminate the way life, his and ours, can be read between the lines of art and culture.
"Novelist Lethem's new collection of essays starts with an intriguing, if emotionally distant, consideration of his lifelong relationship with popular culture and develops into a moving memoir that transcends those references altogether. As the essays make clear, Lethem (The Fortress of Solitude) has always been obsessive: he watched Star Wars 21 times the summer it was released, then followed that with 21 viewings of 2001 a few years later; the novels of Philip K. Dick played as large a role in his growing artistic vision as did the canvases of his father, painter Richard Lethem. But the collection doesn't find its purpose until the author strips away the pop culture references to get at what really drives him: the childhood his hippie parents provided for him, his father's artistic influence on him, his mother's early death. The book picks up steam especially in the essay 'Lives of the Bohemians,' a simple and direct family history in which, for the first time here, Lethem's depiction of himself as a child feels genuine rather than theorized, lived rather than considered. By the end, Lethem fully and beautifully bares himself, admitting that he, like so many, is driven by loss. Only then does he write the truest sentence possible: 'I find myself speaking about my mother's death everywhere I go in this world.' Agent, Richard Parks. (On sale Mar. 15)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"The best thing about Lethem's nonfiction is his willingness... to cop to his sometimes elitist and obsessive-compulsive behavior while at the same time giving ample evidence of his knowledge." Kirkus Reviews
"This is a gem of a book. I can't think of another that captures so well the livid warmth — later curdling into embarrassment — that characterizes the jejune, impassioned and borderline-pretentious tastes with which we first find, and then lose, ourselves; and it comes illuminated with an adult's forgiving fondness for the cultural Mussolinis we once were, age 15." Tom Shone, The New York Observer
"At first, The Disappointment Artist could easily appear to be a way for Lethem to recycle and bronze essays previously sold to the New Yorker, Harper's and Granta. But the further you plunge into the collection, it becomes evident that these essays are simply alternative versions of one arresting and meaningful memoir." San Francisco Chronicle
"A memoir thinly disguised as a collection of pop-culture essays. Lethem may have been bored, but I wasn't." Seattle Times
"A characteristically intelligent collection of essays that reveals the artistic and personal forces that shaped one of America's most innovative novelists." Miami Herald
"Jonathan Lethem has produced a disarming treatise on the essential connectivity between life and art." Los Angeles Times
In a volume he describes as "a series of covert and not-so-covert autobiographical pieces," Jonathan Lethem explores the nature of cultural obsession—from western films and comic books, to the music of Pink Floyd and the New York City subway. Along the way, he shows how each of these "voyages out from himself" has led him to the source of his beginnings as a writer. The Disappointment Artist is a series of windows onto the collisions of art, landscape, and personal history that formed Lethems richly imaginative, searingly honest perspective on life. A touching, deeply perceptive portrait of a writer in the making.
About the Author
Jonathan Lethem is the author of six novels, including the bestselling The Fortress of Solitude and Motherless Brooklyn, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award and was named novel of the year by Esquire. He is also the author of two short story collections, Men and Cartoons and The Wall of the Sky, The Wall of the Eye, and the editor of The Vintage Book of Amnesia. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Esquire, The Paris Review, and a variety of other periodicals and anthologies. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, and Maine.
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